Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Couch Potato

Where in the world is Macaronimaniac? Outside the Hotel New York, in Rotterdam.
My squeeze the Cheez took this picture while we were in Rotterdam because I am from New York.

We did not stay in the Hotel New York. Instead we stayed in the least New York place imaginable.
We stayed in the home of a complete stranger.

I was raised New York style. Which is to say, suspicious. My father honestly believes that if you take a cab, you will for sure end up brutally murdered. Because all strangers are just biding their time, waiting to get you.

So maybe it was an act of latent but well-justified rebellion when I logged onto to find a place to stay in Rotterdam. Couch surfing sounds kind of 23 year-old dude, I'll admit, but it was recommended to me by my college roommate, who is so not a 23 year-old dude that she is an IT manager for an international bank. (If you think Couch Surfing sounds bad, consider the similar organization called Hospitality Club, which sounds like something Eliot Spitzer might have on speed dial).

I surfed for Rotterdam couches, with the sole criteria of finding a non-smoker over the age of 35.

But I found so much more than that.

I found Rossi in Rotterdam.

Self-employed, works from home, into art. According to her profile, Rossi was just like me! Except for the part about being Dutch and living in Rotterdam. I sent an email, and she agreed to host us.

"You off for your sofa thingy?" Helen, my Brit friend in Amsterdam, asked Saturday morning.

"Couch thingy," I corrected her. Then I told her where she could find Rossi's phone number and address, just in case Cheez and I ended up brutally murdered after all.

We got on the tram to the train station. The tram came to a dead stop 30 seconds later, with a long announcement in Dutch that somehow included the phrase "cable gebroken."

Just as I was worrying about how long we'd be stuck, the tram started up again, taking a diversion from its usual route. Another announcement came, this time in English. It didn't provide any information about the broken cable or the altered route, but it did offer the reassurance, "Don't worry about the potato. The soup is alright."

No mention of brutal murder per se, but still, I took it as a good sign.

In Rotterdam, Rossi picked us up in her car. Aside from driving like a maniac, she showed no intention of harming us. She gave us a tour of the city, then took us to the Witte de With, a contemporary art museum.

I was so nervous. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if I didn't like her? What if I liked her but she didn't like me?

It was kind of like being on a blind date.

Except with a blind date, you don't know whether you'll end up going home together. With a couch surf, you know.

Our first couch was actually right in the museum, in an exhibit called Shared Space in which two artists had decorated a workroom with a pimped out rug and an insanely comfy couch. The perfect place to subject Rossi to my fave photographic phenom, Found Object Tripod.

Step 1. Set camera to self-timer mode.
Step 2. Perch camera precariously on any available object.
Step 3. Hit the shutter trigger.
Step 4. Run into the picture
Step 5. Laugh like hyena (optional).
Repeat as necessary.

According to her couch surfing profile, Rossi shared my addiction to the digital camera. "I left mine in my friend's bag last week when I was in Paris," she told us forlornly, "and she hasn't sent it back yet." If Rossi had told me she had misplaced a kidney, I couldn't have been more sympathetic. "I'll send you copies of all my pictures," I promised.

As we sat on the couch, Rossi translated the museum's description of the room. Visitors and members of staff are invited to relax for a while, chat with one another, or use the equipment together. With this project, we do not merely respond, but also contribute to the thriving design environment in Rotterdam. Shared Space is not an exhibition; the objects in the space are intended for use.

Unfortunately, the objects in the space consisted of a week-old newspaper and an industrial-sized paper shredder.

Nonetheless, we set to work.

Rossi made a paper hat.
Cheez made a giant fortune teller.
I made a flower and stuck it in the planter.

But the piece de resistance was a collaborative effort, involving a carefully synchronized use of both forward and reverse functions on the shredder.

"It's so beautiful, it should hang on the wall," said Rossi.

I agreed, and set up trying to pull some tape off the pimped rug. When that failed, I pulled a piece of gum from my purse, chewed madly, and used it to affix the piece to the wall. Rossi whipped out a pencil and added a curatorial tag.
Eat Your Heart Out, Jeff Koons

We were so pleased with our artistic display, we went out for celebratory drinks, then headed back to Rossi's place, where her boyfriend Peter had prepared a four-course, gourmet dinner for us.
Surf's up, dude. Kowabunga!

As we reviewed the day's events, I told our hosts about the morning tram ride. "Is there some Dutch expression the woman on the tram was trying to translate?" I asked.

Peter thought for a minute, then said, "The soup is never eaten as hot as it is served."

Huh? He explained it meant that although the soup may be too hot right now, if you wait, the soup will cool enough to eat. Or, as an anxious New Yorker can need to learn, just have patience, and everything will be all right.

Still, something seemed off about the translation. "What happened to the potato?" I asked.

"It's in there," Peter answered, pointing to the roasted pumpkin soup with toasted pine nuts and creme fraiche he'd just served us.

Of course it was. Why had I worried?


dragoncita said...

aw, i wish you had had your blog when you visited us so we could have been immortalized in public so beautifully.


To be continued says Rossi when we visit Portland in June/July '08

;) from Rotterdam